Russia’s Presidential Election Runs Into Reality

    Nikolas K. Gvosdev


    Russian President Vladimir Putin makes his annual New Year address to the nation in Moscow, Russia December 31, 2017. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

    Russians—and the world—will wake up on March 19 to find that not much has changed. But the clock counting down towards domestic and international crises will be running.

    Two months before Russians go to the polls for the country’s seventh presidential election, the news reports could already be written in advance. Barring an act of God, Vladimir Putin will be elected for a fourth term in office, making him the leader with the longest tenure in executive authority of any of the world’s major powers. Before a single ballot is cast, a majority of the U.S. political establishment will already consider the results of this poll to be illegitimate. No matter the fact of Putin’s genuine base of support in Russia, the ways that the Kremlin has managed the election process and the inevitable gap that will emerge between actual voter turnout and number of votes cast for Putin with the published results—especially if the target of 70 percent turnout/70 percent in favor of Putin is reached amidst reports that some degree of fine-tuning was required to meet these goals—will be cited to deny that Putin has any popular mandate to continue to govern. So the election will solve nothing: those in the Russian elite who believe that Americans (and some Europeans) must concede the “reality” of Putin and start doing business with the Kremlin will be disappointed. Also, those in the West who maintain that all anyone needs to do is wait for the inevitable color revolution to depose Putin, that in turn will solve all the outstanding issues that have led to the deterioration of Russia’s relations with the West.

    So, on March 19, 2018, nothing will have changed. But the two looming problems that the election will not solve will still be there.

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